‘Next Fall’ at the Speakeasy Stage – Theater Review

A far cry from the last feel-good production I saw put on by the SpeakEasy Stage Company (that would be the rollicking good-time of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’), ‘Next Fall’ is a very serious play that resonates with several particularly-timely subjects – yet it is just as expertly-done, and haunts in a more provocative manner. At its heart, it is a play about the difficult reconciliation between religion and homosexuality, and it also touches on family relations, the question of faith, and the simple (or not so simple) meaning of love. If it sounds like a lot, it is – but somehow the ensemble cast reins it in with impeccably-rendered performances.

Nominated for a Tony for Best Play in 2010, ‘Next Fall’ by Geoffrey Nauffts is compellingly of-the-moment, especially given these religiously-fanatic times. A Bible makes it way around to each of the characters – sometimes instilling comfort, sometimes inciting anger, sometimes invoking sadness – and it becomes its own central character, embodying the idea of religion, and all notions of good and bad. Any sort of judgment one way or another is wisely avoided, and the lingering ambivalence over the real role of religion and faith in the characters’ lives remains powerfully unresolved.

Directed by Scott Emriston, the production keeps its pace, owing in part to several ingenious set design shifts (Scenic Designer Janie Howland) and quick costume changes (Costume Design by Carlos Aguilar). Most effective may be the lighting (courtesy of Lighting Designer Karen Perlow), which somehow manages to differentiate between a cold hospital waiting room and a warm personal apartment, seemingly at the flip of a switch.

There are a few minor quibbles. A quick drug-addiction scene comes out of nowhere and ends up in the same place, and at times it does feel like there are too many things going on when a closer, more detailed examination of the bigger issues at hand might have proved better, but the strength of the ensemble pulls it all together. Not one of the actors uses broad strokes to fill their character, and their subtle, natural nuances keep things grounded on a credible level. There’s not a weak-link in the bunch. Taken as a whole, they add up to a powerful night of theater.

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